Pope set to send letter to faithful


POPE BENEDICT has announced he will “sign off” on his much anticipated pastoral letter to the Irish faithful dealing with clerical sex abuse tomorrow.

The letter, promised by the pope after a meeting last December with Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, will be made public “soon after”, he said, speaking at his weekly public audience in St Peter’s Square yesterday.

Addressing English-speaking pilgrims at the end of his public audience, the pope said: “Today is the feast of Saint Patrick, and in a special way I greet all the Irish faithful and pilgrims here present.

“As you know, in recent months the church in Ireland has been severely shaken as a result of the child abuse crisis.

“As a sign of my deep concern I have written a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation. I will sign it on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the guardian of the Holy Family and patron of the universal church, and send it soon after. I ask all of you to read it for yourselves, with an open heart and in a spirit of faith. My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal.”

The Vatican press office was unable to indicate just what precisely “soon after” means. Commentators, however, argue that it is probable the letter will be released this weekend so that its contents can be communicated at Sunday Mass all over Ireland. It would seem probable, then, that the pope’s letter will have a very specific “Irish” orientation.

Vatican commentators had suggested that, given the current wave of sex abuse allegations against clergy, not only in Benedict’s native Germany but also in Austria, Brazil, Italy and the Netherlands, the pope might be tempted to postpone his Irish letter in favour of a more “universal” document.

In a separate development yesterday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said only “truth and clarity”, and not singling out the Catholic Church, would expose the full scale of Germany’s unfolding child abuse scandal.

In her first public comments on the scandal, the German leader said it would be a “challenge for all of society” to expose the truth about “abhorrent crimes” against children. “We can all agree that sexual abuse against children is an abhorrent crime but there is only one way for society to come clean,” she told the Bundestag yesterday, “and that is to establish truth and clarity about everything that has happened.”

Since the end of January, when the first allegations of abuse surfaced at a Jesuit school in Berlin, over 250 cases of clerical child abuse have come to light around the country. German primate, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, in Berlin yesterday for talks with political leaders, promised a “complete investigation” into all clerical abuse claims.